Ubuntu being, of course, the free operating system that's based on linux (that's based on unix). I've got some limited experience of big nasty unix. Years ago, I started but then gave up on a programming post-grad once I realised I had zero aptitude for it, and one of the things I do remember (we're talking mid- to late-nineties here) is playing around with unix. Ever since then, I've become a really big fan of operating systems where you don't need to have one damn idea how it works as long as it works. Like OSX, for instance, on my macbook here.

Even so, my persistent interest in technology persuaded me to try Ubuntu a couple of times in the past, only to give up whenever it started yelling something about kernels at me. Nice idea, but not nearly as user-friendly as I would have liked.

Cut to a few weeks ago when Emma's laptop stuck its legs in the air and started making death-rattle noises. Or rather, shut down and then obstinately refused to start up again. Don't ask me how, but it appeared Windows was terminally shafted. Within forty-eight hours we'd picked up another brand-new laptop, a cheap one for just a couple hundred that's proved to be surprisingly solid.

I got around to tinkering with the 'dead' laptop and coaxed it back into life by installing a new Ubuntu operating system and, lo and behold, it's startlingly good. I actually can't believe how fast it starts up, and installation was done with such a minimum of fuss that assuming your needs don't extend beyond (say) open office, firefox, skype and dropbox for backup, I don't see any reason anyone would ever want to bother with Windows again. It is quite incredibly user friendly.

Now all I have to do is figure what's making that aggressive whirring sound; my bets are a dying fan. So it's off to Ebay.


Recommendations and Leith

Here's a recommendation for all the budding writers amongst you: Science Fiction 101" by Robert Silverberg (originally published as Worlds of Wonder). It's an anthology of Silverberg's favourite science fiction from a period spanning roughly 1953 to 1966, and includes a great number of stories regarded by many as genre classics. Some I love, some I love perhaps not so much, but what makes this stand out is Silverberg's commentary. Every story is accompanied by an essay in which he picks the story apart in order to figure out not only why it ticks, but what it is about the story that makes it so highly-regarded. This elevates it to the position of being an invaluable book for those wanting to write long or short-form science fiction (as a matter of fact, one of the things that decided me to buy it was a review by Joe Haldeman on the book's Amazon.com page which sang its praises). The opening autobiographical essay, in which Silverberg recounts the ways in which he obsessively analyzed fiction as a teenager in his drive to become a professional author, is worth the price of the book alone.

There's some great stories in there - Day Million, The Light of Other Days - and one or two others I can't help but find terribly creaky and old-fashioned, such as Cordwainer Smith's Scanners Live in Vain (What may not have helped in terms of reading the latter, much of which is set during a secret meeting of 'scanners' or interstellar pilots, is that I had a hard time not picturing it in the form of the Ku Klux Klan musical sequence in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou?). It's a highly regarded story - I'm just not entirely sure why.

Time to read recently has been scant. I'm on a long hard drive to finish Final Days by the early July deadline and, as I may have mentioned before (or maybe I didn't) I lost a lot of writing time because of the move back to the UK. As a result, I'm a little more rushed than usual, and therefore have rather less of a life at the moment than I usually do. Once the book's in, I can chill for a couple of weeks and catch up on reading and watching.

The event in Leith went well, although it wasn't as busy as it usually is. If you want to see more of your favourite writers and you live in the Edinburgh area, it's well worth your time checking it out this time next year. Prior to taking part in my own panel, I spent some time sitting in on a reading that included Ron Butlin, Zoe Strachan and Louise Welsh - the latter the author of, amongst others, The Cutting Room and The Bullet Trick, very fine novels set in Glasgow, and which I highly recommend you check out. What I found amusing was that the instant the 'mainstream' authors were done, they and their audience departed en masse the moment it was announced the following item would be about Haikasoru, the Nick Mamatas-edited Japanese-sf-in-translation imprint. Hey, their loss.


Coming Up

I'm taking part in an event as part of the Leith Festival of Literature on June Sunday 13th at Bond No 9, 84 Commercial Street in Leith at 5pm. It'll be my first trip to Edinburgh since my return to the UK, so I'm quite looking forward to it. It's an all-day event, and Fate has conspired to place me on a panel called 'SF Scramble':

Editor and Scotsman SF critic Andrew J. Wilson (Nova Scotia) in discussion with author Gary Gibson (Stealing Light, Against Gravity) and translator Edwin Hawkes on the challenges and rewards of translating genre fiction. Interspersed with readings of the very best of Japanese science fiction, fantasy and horror in English, including a sneak preview of the forthcoming English edition of Tow Ubukata’s phenomenal bestselling Mardock Scramble.

Everything I know about translating fiction could probably be scribbled on the back of a very, very small napkin, but then I've had stuff translated before, so I guess I'm there to be the voice of one who has been translated, rather than one who translates (on the other hand, I am married to someone who's done a lot of translation work herself in the past). One way or other, I know Andrew, and recently met Edwin, and I don't think the three of us'll have too much trouble getting an interesting discussion going.

And only a month to go! Empire of Light is out in hardback on July 2nd, and the paperback of Nova War is out the same day - although if past experience is anything to go by, they'll be on sale a good few days before that. If you're an ebook reader, I noticed recently that Stealing Light and Nova War are both available for the Kindle at a pretty decent price, and I've also seen the epub version of both on sale at bookdepository.com. I've no idea what the pricing on the ebook of Empire of Light will be, but it'll presumably go on sale at the start of July as well.  

More Ipad thoughts

Although I wasn't entirely blown away by my brief twenty-minutes-or-so experience with an Ipad in Glasgow's Apple Store, various reviews and commentary such as this got me thinking that sometime somebody's going to have the clever idea that what we really need is a kind of missing link, halfway between the Ipad and an actual laptop: essentially, a laptop with a screen you can lift off a mount and use as a touchpad if you so choose. That way you've got a machine you can browse on while lying half off the couch, then take through to your home office, click it together with the keyboard (or into a frame containing the keyboard) and use it exactly like a regular laptop.

Then I saw this and realized that the world had once again figured this out long before me. Unfortunately, they all run Windows. Yech.

Which brings me to my next prediction: someone's going to come up with a hard-case for the Ipad and its bluetooth keyboard that essentially simulates a laptop, while allowing it to retain the convenience of a standalone touchpad. Then we're really talking.

Edit: Oh. Right. Duh. According to Blarkon in the comments, it's already here.  And it is rather pretty.